There’s a good chance that you were one of the 143 million American consumers whose personal financial information was exposed in a data breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies.
According to Equifax, the breach lasted from mid-May through July. Hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people.
As an employer, you are able to provide identity protection services without increases to your federal payroll taxes and without any additional federal taxes to your employees. In 2015, the IRS began permitting employers to provide identity protection services to employees in connection with a data breach as not taxable to employees. In 2016, the IRS expanded that guidance to permits employers to provide tax-free identity protection services to their employees before a breach happens. Services can include credit reporting and monitoring, identity theft insurance policies, or identity restoration. However, since the IRS guidance only applies to federal tax rules, employers will want to review and evaluate any state or local tax consequences of providing identity protection services.
Also, if an employer requires their employees to contribute to the cost of identity protection services, the contributions must be deducted on an after-tax basis. Because identity theft services are not a qualified benefit under Internal Revenue Code Section 125, employees cannot purchase the services on a pre-tax basis.
As an individual, the FTC has identified steps to take to help protect your information from being misused.
- Visit Equifax’s website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.
- Find out if your information was exposed. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is sensitive information, so make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection any time you enter it. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach.
- Whether or not your information was exposed, U.S. consumers can get a year of free credit monitoring and other services. The site will give you a date when you can come back to enroll. Write down the date and come back to the site and click “Enroll” on that date. You have until November 21, 2017 to enroll.
- You also can access frequently asked questions at the site.
Here are some other steps to take to help protect yourself after a data breach:
- Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
- Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.
- Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
- If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
- File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.
Visit Identitytheft.gov/databreach to learn more about protecting yourself after a data breach.